True, unabashed originality in filmmaking continues to be in shorter supply every year it feels like but ensuring that new twists on familiar premises is key to making a movie feel more like homage than shot-for-shot remake.
In recent memory, the Groundhog Day effect has emerged more often – characters trapped in an endless time loop – and it feels impossible to live up to the Bill Murray classic in a traditional romantic comedy sense.
Recent films like Edge of Tomorrow or last year’s Sundance breakout hit Palm Springs have put genre twists on the endless day theme, but a new independent movie debuting on Amazon Prime works just as well in its John Green-esque teen drama.
The Map of Tiny Perfect Things has the traditional premise – Mark relives the same day over and over again – but when Margaret crashes the monotonous routine of his cyclical adventures, he begins a pursuit of the girl that changed his stagnant world.
Kyle Allen gives Mark a John Cusack-like everyman quality that feels reminiscent of 80s John Hughes movies set to a modern pace. It’s surprisingly difficult to create a character relatable enough to get the audience to imprint themselves on, but Allen is effective at projecting a quiet normalcy that feels warm and genuine in spite of the Ferris Bueller bravado that also comes out in Mark.
Kathryn Newton plays Margaret with the appropriate amount of innocuous seductive charm and mystery befitting of her character’s role as the “manic pixie dream girl” of romantic films like Map where the female lead feels too good to be true to the point of almost becoming a vision that only the protagonist can see, let alone fall for.
Since the film becomes a bottle episode in essence where all of the focus is on Mark and Margaret, chemistry between leads is key. Thankfully, Allen’s affable nature pairs nicely with Newton’s ability to make Margaret feel just out of Mark’s reach at every turn.
Map comes together in large part thanks to the partnership between Lev Grossman’s terrifically witty and smart screenplay placed into the hands of Ian Samuels’ kinetic direction, which gives the film a vibrancy not really found in the teen drama genre.
Cross-cutting between scenes/time also helps Map stand apart from other time-loop movies as the mundane repetition of singular events begin to have a greater sense of urgency when viewed in different context, a point Grossman and Samuels go out of their way to poignantly illustrate for audiences.
For a small indie dramedy, the cinematography is exceptional at bringing out the beauty in the everyday, constantly circling Mark and Margaret as they wander all over town in search of perfect moments.
Long cinematic single-take tracking shots weave their way down hallways, across neighborhoods and through open spaces with ease that keep audiences in the dream-like state of Mark and Margaret’s wanderlust for something to spark their humanity. Samuels smartly rewinds the day visually as if memories are being erased for everyone around Mark, which creates both a signpost moment to signify the passage of time (or lack thereof) and help develop the film’s emotional core.
The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is a sappy, yet warm hug of a film that will entertain and tug at the heartstrings of viewers willing to buy into the teen romance and light melodrama, certainly worth checking out on Amazon Prime.